Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Prague vs Hamamatsu: Round 1

Hey there, folks. It's been a long time, but I'm very excited to see that I'm still getting page views and comments.

As you know, I'm not in Japan anymore. It's sad. Sometimes I really, really miss being there so much that I want to cry, and other times I think how glad I am to be away.

Well, here I am in Prague, and while we all might like to pretend we don't compare our hot new lover to our previous one, it's only natural to draw up a little list of similarities and differences in our heads. Right? Well, this is what I've been doing recently with Prague and Hamamatsu, anyway. I would say the Czech Republic vs Japan, but I haven't seen enough of this country to truly decide. So, let's take a look at some of my recent observations...

1 - Restaurants


Monday, 15 August 2011

I'm in Prague...

Hey, everyone. So, as you know, I left Japan. It saddened me to do so, but there we go. However.... this is NOT the end. Firstly, I have a few untold stories and unpublished photos from my days in Japan that I can still upload. I will return again, and I will keep posting other Japan-related things when I can - news stories, observations, little pieces of Japan in other countries. For example, there's a Japanese import store in Prague that I'm interested in visiting.

However, for now - you will notice that I've put a button on the top titled "Prague Blog". Please click it and follow the link to my NEW, shiny blog! Or you can click here - ! :)

Friday, 22 July 2011

Things I will (and won't) miss about Japan!

OK, take a deep breath, Gwynnie.... it's time to write that list. And, unlike the "Things I'll miss" post about the U.K. that I wrote before coming to Japan, this time it will actually be easy for me to list three things. Well, more than three... many, many more. Writing this list is admitting to myself that I'm leaving in only three days. My stomach is in knots, there's a lump in my throat that comes back every time I acknowledge this fact. On Facebook, newbies are getting excited about their new journey to Japan, stressing out but mostly anticipating their new adventure... and as they come, I leave, with a melancholy sigh, before turning my eyes to the gorgeous city of architecture, culture and cheap beer that awaits me.

Inspired by the rather marvellous blog 1000 Things About Japan, I have decided to weave in things I WON'T miss about Japan... perhaps in an attempt to ease my sadness, perhaps in an attempt to give a balanced view, perhaps just because I feel like it. Then again, sometimes it's the things that annoy us that we end up missing, in our own perverted, masochistic little ways. I do suspect that a part of me will long to hear shrill calls of "irasshaimaseeeeee" when I enter shops or restaurants. So, here goes....

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Ryugashidou - 竜ヶ岩洞 - Cool Caves in Hamamatsu

Are you tired of being drenched in sweat from the simple act of standing still? Is your electricity bill unnaturally high due to the constant pumping of cool air into your apartment? If you're experiencing summer in Japan, this is highly probable. Well, never fear, for I have found a day trip that will keep you cool and let you save that little bit extra on your utilities bill.The Ryugashi Caves - 竜ヶ岩洞 - are located north of Hamamatsu, and are cool in both senses of the word. One Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago, Jeff and I jumped on a bus and headed up there. 

Friday, 8 July 2011

Being Gay in Japan

I think it's fair to say that being gay is difficult. I imagine that being gay in a new country is even harder. Imagine being gay in a new country that keeps its homosexual urges under wraps and where you possibly can't speak the language. In this article I aim to give an idea of what it's like to be gay, bisexual, unisexual, fluid, whatever word you want to use - in Japan. After interviewing some of my friends and scouring for resources, my aim is to provide some useful resources and insights into the nature of sexual orientation in Japan

Thursday, 7 July 2011

A load of pictures of food

 Not so many words today, just a bunch of photos of things I've eaten in Japan. As you can see, my diet is not very "Japanese" ;)... enjoy!

Tricolour Enchiladas at Las Chillonas, Hamamatsu

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Hamamatsu's Unagi Pie Factory

When a writer for a local guidebook enthused that "to call Hamamatsu's Unagi Pie Factory a factory would not be do the place justice; it is more of a theme park suitable for the whole family", I knew that either I had lived in Hamamatsu for over a year without discovering this gem, or that somebody was having a laugh.

Unagi Pie, if you don't know, is one of Hamamatsu's "specialities". Unagi means eel, and eel itself is one of the local delicacies (although I've never eaten it because it's so expensive... tourism fail). The "pie" in question is a sweetened biscuit of sorts, made up from crushed eel bones in pastry. Yum. It tastes mostly sugary, perhaps with a little cinnamon and a subtle, lingering hint of sealife under the sweetness. Made in Hamamatsu, the factory itself is a popular tourist attraction. The only real way to get to it is by car, as it lies far from any bus route or train line, but the advantage is that entry is free.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

I'm leaving....

Well, this is a sad announcement. I'm leaving Japan. Really soon.

On July 25th, Jeff and I will fly out of Narita and into London (after a long stop in Kuala Lumpur). If we survive a flight with Malaysia Airlines, we'll be in the UK for two weeks before heading to our next destination.... Prague.

I didn't tell you before because I hadn't made it official, and I didn't want my company reading about my departure over my blog before I'd sent in a resignation.

So, why am I leaving?

Monday, 20 June 2011

Sexy Japan - 5 Things That Might Shock You! (Warning - 18+)

When people think of the Japanese people, all kinds of adjectives come to mind. Reserved. Weird. Polite. Wacky. Welcoming. Shy. Friendly. It depends on where your ideas come from. If you've browsed the internet a lot and come across a lot of Japanese porn  (sorry, bad choice of words), you might think that we have here a nation of possibly perverted, sexually repressed individuals. I've heard it said plenty of times - "they produce so much porn because they're so sexually repressed", to paraphrase many self-proclaimed experts on culture and psychology.

Well, it's certainly true that Japan produces a lot of porn. And it's true that a lot of that porn seems to depict girls of questionable ages being pressured or forced into sexual acts that they're not up for (at first, anyway). But a sexually repressed nation? I'm not so sure. While my 15-year-old students seem innocent and naive about all matters grown-up, I've peered inside enough manga (comic) books to know that this isn't exactly the case. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm no believer in "let's shelter our children from all knowledge of sex or violence"; I think that this almost casual exposure could be a positive thing if done properly. A lack of decent sex education has been blamed for many teen pregnancies, although that debate is for another time. What fascinate me are the differences in attitudes towards all things sexual between Japan and the "Western" world which I'm used to. Before I prattle on any longer, let me tell you about some of the things that are a part of Japanese life, and I'll let you make up your own mind.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Creating TEFL Lesson Plans

If you are a TEFL/ESL teacher, chances are that at some point you will have to plan a lesson. Sure, some people like to turn up and wing it. If you run conversation classes, you might not have to do any more than talk. Some schools will give you a step-by-step lesson plan to follow. However, sometimes an English teacher will be called upon to produce a lesson plan.

If you teach at elementary school, this is more likely as the homeroom teachers' English level varies greatly and some don't feel at all confident teaching it. At Junior High school, teachers have specialised subjects, so the English teachers might feel confident in creating the lesson plans themselves - in fact, they might feel so confident that they see the presence of an ALT as a hindrance and will have you doing little more than reading out the occasional sentence. If you teach at an eikaiwa (conversation school) or run private lessons, chances are that you will have to produce your own lesson plans.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

10 Tips for Saving Money in Japan

While writing my FAQ (see Live, Teach and Work in Japan) I realised that I was writing a lot about living expenses and ways to save money, so I thought that I would expand the discussion to this article.

There is a pre-conception floating around that Japan is really expensive. I'm not out to challenge that view head-on and say that it's a budgeter's paradise, but it does seem that ideas about Japan's average prices come from people who've never stepped foot outside Tokyo's business districts. The cost of living in Japan is probably one of the highest in the world (close to Australia, Euro-using European countries or the UK), but the money that you can make here is pretty good, too. If you're careful and wise (and take on some private English lessons on the side), you could put away around $1000 a month in savings! "HOW?" I hear you cry. Well, let me give you some suggestions...

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

New pages!

Hey guys - I'm not sure if you will notice, but I have added some new pages to this blog!

We have the old "Help Japan" page, full of information about volunteering and donating to help the earthquake/tsunami victims. I added an "About Me" page for a lovely bit of self-indulgence, although it's more about my journey and how I came to be teaching English in Japan. The latest addition is "Live, Work and Teach in Japan" - a comprehensive FAQ in which I try to answer questions from imaginary people. The questions are based on things I've seen often asked in forums, as well as things that various people have asked me in the past. I hope that it's helpful!

Just look up and click the buttons on the bar... click "Home" to return to the main blog. I'm sure you could have worked that out for yourselves, but hey.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Golden Week: Yokohama, Nikko and exploring Tochigi-ken

Since the big earthquake, tsunami and nuclear power plant incidents, tourists have been avoiding anywhere north of Tokyo like the plague. Perhaps it's the media's fault; their addiction to sensationalism overriding any pangs of guilt for causing unecessary panic. Perhaps it's down to the embassies advising against non-essential travel to anywhere north of the capital. Perhaps people are generally just keeping on the safe side, and don't know what to expect.
Well, I visited Yokohama, the second largest city in Japan, a few train stops before Tokyo (from Hamamatsu) and then I visited Nikko, a three hour train ride north of there. Neither were disaster zones, and even the "blackouts" didn't extend to more than a slightly inconvenient train schedule and a few escalators turned off. It seems that some places are making only a token effort to close down electricity, perhaps turning off one or two lights while most things go on as normal. Nikko is in Tochigi prefecture; the prefecture just next to (south-west of) Fukushima. Does this strike fear into your hearts? I'll tell you about it, and you can decide what you think.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Hamanako Pal-Pal, Hamamatsu Flower Park and Toyohashi Zoo

Recently, I've been checking out some of the Hamamatsu area's attractions. 

Hamanako Pal-Pal
A 45 minute bus ride from Hamamatsu station (platform 1, all buses except 37 I think) - take the stop after Flower Park. Pal-Pal is Hamamatsu's version of a theme park. 1000 entry, which leads you into a spherical plaza of shops, arcades and restaurants. After paying for overpriced curry and melon Fanta, we realised that entry into the main park was through one of two tiny doors. Not very intuitive or well organised!Click here for the official website.
Still, actually going on rides was an extra cost. We paid 800 for the big blue rollercoaster, which - to be honest - is pretty damn good. It feels like a modern wonder, out of place in this old park reminiscent of British seaside towns or travelling fairs. But for 800円 a pop on top of the entrance fee, I wasn't keen to reconfirm the experience.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Cherry Blossoms in Kyoto: The Philosopher's Path and Arashiyama

Once a year, a beautiful wave of pink flowers sweeps across Japan from South to North. In Hokkaido Highway Blues: Hitchhiking Japan, Will Ferguson follows the path of the cherry blossoms up the coast of Japan, riding on the wave of the kind hospitality of strangers. For only a couple of weeks, hundreds of trees in every town are transformed into beautiful pink and white national symbols; ancient poetic reminders of the fleeting nature of all things. Every year, thousands of people flock to the most prominent sites to participate in the ritual of viewing these flowers, taking photographs and "Hanami", which literally means "flower viewing" - a kind of picnic under the cherry blossoms, often involving copious amounts of alcohol.

This year, I decided that I wanted to see some of the more famous cherry blossom sites - at least, a little more than Hamamatsu Castle Park, which is all I saw of them last year. So, two weeks ago, on a Friday night after work, Jeff and I headed up to Kyoto by slow train. We stayed the night at an interesting hotel and set off the next morning to the Philosopher's Walk, a renowned walking path beginning at Ginkakuji and ending at Nanzenji, two of Kyoto's many temples. In Japanese, it is called Tetsugaku no Michi (哲学の道). There are buses running from Kyoto station to Ginkakuji, where you can start the adventure. It's a relaxing, beautiful walk along canals lined with cherry blossoms (well, for a few weeks a year). Observe some photos:

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Japan's Nuclear Power Plants: A History of Accidents

Fukushima Power Plant on March 12th, 2011
You can't have escaped the recent panic over the raised radioactivity around Fukushima nuclear power plant, following damage to the cooling systems after the 9.0 earthquake and tsunami on March 11th, 2011. All over the world, people have been panicking. Press reports claim that people in the U.S. and Canada, in fears of radiation spreading across the ocean, are buying up iodine tablets (thought to be ineffective as it is actually potassium iodide that should be taken, which is perhaps even harmful if taken without exposure to radiation - see "Should Americans Take Iodine..." on But while the media is acting as if this is a world-shaking event, a disaster that could be "worse than Chernobyl", something set to shake up the power industry as we know it, to redefine the way we view nuclear energy and to make governments question their choices about power; it has come to light that this is definitely not Japan's first nuclear accident. A brief search into Google's news archives from the last couple of decades has brought some interesting things to light, which I am too young to remember. It seems, though, that the media and the Japanese population have largely forgotten about these incidents, too.

Before you read on, this is not meant to be a full-frontal attack on the nuclear power industry. My interest is more in the short attention span/memory of the media and the public, although the amount of accidents - while long-term or serious damage doesn't seem to be reported - should surely raise eyebrows, if not questions.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Goodbye, 三年生 (third grade)...

At the end of February, my third graders took their high school entrance examinations and finished their Junior High School lessons. I never taught KJHS's third grade, but in TJHS we were quite close. I ate lunch with the students on a rotated schedule, and would chat to them in the corridor. Some of them had amazing English, and even if it wasn't perfect, they weren't afraid to try having a conversation. I would teach at one in three of their weekly English classes, so while I wasn't there, their main teacher got them to write goodbye letters to me.

I have photographed some of my favourite ones. While the English isn't perfect, it's impressive. But it's the little pictures that really do it. They're so cute. So, have a look, enjoy, and understand why I love teaching.

Year 2 Begins...

Well, my first year in Japan has been and gone. With all the recent disasters, panic, sadness and general craziness, my one-year-in-Japan anniversary (Japanniversary?) passed me by, unnoticed. While large parts of Japan are ruined or affected in some way by recent events, the greatest repercussions in Hamamatsu are that the Golden Week festival (and other festivals) have been cancelled. Apparently it is wrong to celebrate while your brethren are suffering - a noble notion, for certain, but one that surely poses a threat to Japan's economy and morale in the long term. Still, other things go on as normal.

With the arrival of the cherry blossoms, Japan finishes one fiscal year and begins another. Students graduate from schools and begin their next steps only two weeks later, businesses reshuffle, ceremonies mark the endings and beginnings of chapters of life. Without researching, I would say that this timing was decided in order to coincide with the cherry blossoms - that haiku-inspiring reminder that all things in life are fleeting, however beautiful. Spring definitely marks a time of change - of movement, of rebirth. And so, while devastating, that world-shattering earthquake and tsunami chose a good time to strike in terms of Japan's psyche - for this week, we move on to the next chapters - we pick up, we rebuild, we start afresh.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

10 days later...

It's been 10 days since the big earthquake hit, and the Western media seems to be bored already. The positive side to this is that Libya is getting some headline space again... I see that the U.S./U.K. couldn't quite manage to sit back and watch, after all. The nuclear reactor situation in Fukushima is still causing panic and hype, but it feels as if the constant panic has eased off. Perhaps enough scientists have published statistics and reassuring words. However, the death toll keep increasing. It currently stands at 9000 and is expected to rise. Today, I heard that a JET teacher from Miyagi had been found dead. Of course, that isn't to say that the situation is suddenly only tragic when a foreigner is caught up in it - but I think that all of us, as English teachers, feel a pang of sadness when we hear that one of our own group has passed away. I suppose that it also brings a cold shiver or reality - how that could have been any one of us.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Don't Panic!

Before you freak out about nuclear fallout in Japan, take a deep breath, and read this.

The media is creating a LOT of hysteria at the moment. In the last few hours, I have seen links to news sites from a lot of countries claiming that there is a "mass exodus from Tokyo". Fox News showed a map of "nuclear plants in Tokyo", listing a place called "Shibuyaeggman". This turned out to be a club in a popular area of Tokyo.

While newspapers are acting as if this is a nuclear apocalypse, throwing around terms like "worse than Chernobyl",  

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Earthquake links page...

I have now added news feeds relating to the Japan situation, as well as a Twitter feed. I have been re-tweeting informative posts and giving some updates as to the situation. On my "Japan's Crisis" page, I have compiled a list of links for those who want to help. I will update it when I receive new information. I have also linked to Hamamatsu City's Earthquake guides (in English)!

Just click "Japan's Crisis" on navigation bar.

Monday, 14 March 2011

The Disaster

I feel that it would be insulting to write about anything else right now.

I'm pretty sure that you don't need me to tell you what happened in Japan on Friday. An earthquake (I've heard estimates from 8.8 to 9.1 being thrown around), triggering a 10m tsunami. Hundreds of aftershocks. Fires. A death toll that could hit 10,000. Half a town missing. Then the nuclear reactors started overheating.

Monday, 28 February 2011

Be Prepared! Or "What Should I Bring to Japan?"

It has rained constantly since last night, and my feet are soaked. I thought to myself as I walked to school this morning; "I wish I'd brought some wellies* to Japan with me". A size 7 in the UK, it's hard for me to find shoes that fit comfortably here in Japan. Perhaps I'm not looking hard enough, but so far I seem to be just squeezing into the largest size available - not comfortably, might I add. This got me thinking about the things that I wished I had brought with me to Japan. As there are a new batch of Interac ALTs coming over in just a few weeks, I thought that it might be helpful to write a few pointers. I have blabbed on a lot, so at the end I have written a concise checklist for easier viewing.

*Wellies = Wellington Boots (British English), aka gumboots, rainshoes... these things!


It isn't that you can't find shoes or clothes in Japan, it's just that larger ladies will have a hard time of it.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Keep your tears out of my miso soup....

I witnessed an interesting cultural phenomenon this morning.

I was at Denny's with Jeff and Megan, preparing to order some early morning katsudon, when a family of five people sat at the table next to us. There were two parents and three young children, perhaps around six and younger. The youngest - perhaps one or two years old - was clearly upset about something, and started crying and screaming. He wouldn't be quiet, and it was pretty annoying.

Suddenly, an old man a few tables away put his fingers in his ears and started shouting something angrily at them.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Hamamatsu's International Restaurants

Hey, I know what you might be thinking - "you're in Japan, you should eat Japanese food!".... Well, of course I eat Japanese food. I love a lot of it, and I tolerate a lot of things that I find in my school lunch. If you're travelling in Japan for a brief amount of time, you should of course make the effort to try as much of the local cuisine as possible. If, however, you've been living here for a few months, then you might fancy a break from Japanese food every now and again.

Hamamatsu is home to many foreigners, and as a result boasts a great amount of international food. If you've been wondering "where can I find non-Japanese food in Hamamatsu?" then look no further - I have compiled a list of the places that I know of. Please feel free to tell me of others, I can add them on!

Wednesday, 23 February 2011


The final destination on our weekend was Okayama - just an hour's train ride from Takamatsu. Chosen only for its location, I knew nothing about it, other than that the castle looked quite cool (more interesting than most). After leaving Naoshima quite early, we took a train that landed us in Okayama for about 3.30pm.

My shoes still soaked, the first plan of action was to find cheap shoes than fit me. I hadn't managed this in Japan so far (not that I looked very hard) so I wasn't hopeful - but it turns out that the station is a magical wonderland.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Naoshima - Art Island

There are many small islands off the coast of Takamatsu, which you can travel to by ferry quite easily. Alternatively you can take a ferry from Uno on the main island of Honshuu. I had spent some time researching islands on Japan-Guide; did I want to visit the Mediterranean Shodoshima, famous for its olives? The small, mostly mountainous island of Megijima, famous for its Ogre Cave (from the story of Momotaro)? Or perhaps Ogijima, with its one village, reportedly a collection of wooden houses connected by a confusing system of lanes? In the end, I decided on Naoshima -

Shikoku: Naruto's Whirpools and Takamatsu's Old Village

Last Friday was my favourite kind of national holiday - the kind that latches on to a weekend, giving me freedom to travel a little further out of Hamamatsu than I normally could. Japan is made up of four main islands, and so far - other than my soujourn to Hachijo-jima - I had not been off Honshu, the main island. For a long time, Jeff had wanted to visit another of the islands, in particular Shikoku. I didn't know much about Shikoku, other than that Haruki Murakami's Kafka on the Shorewas set in the very city that we would later stay in...
Armed with the internet and zero knowledge, I set about planning a 3-day trip. Unfortunately, time and money wouldn't allow us to travel too far into the depths of Shikoku, but we did manage to skim the surface while visiting two other cities on Honshuu on the journey. The plan - travel to Kobe on the Thursday night after work and stay at a hotel. The next day, we would take a bus from Kobe to Naruto, at the closest point of Shikoku. Here, we would marvel at Naruto's "famous" whirpools for a while before heading to Takamatsu (where Kafka is mainly set!). We would stay there for one night, and spend a part of the next day on Naoshima, a small island famous for art. From there we would travel up to Okayama and stay there for a night (I liked the look of the castle) before heading back our separate ways on Sunday.
So, Thursday came and off we went. Meeting in Maibara, we were in Kyoto by around 9pm. Using the JR trains all the way from Hamamatsu would normally take about 5 hours, but I was lazy and decided to splash out on the shinkansen to Maibara, before continuing on the JR trains. We walked around Sannomiya for a while, but to be honest there doesn't seem to be that much to do there. We spent some money in an izakaya, and Jeff showed me their "famous" flower clock... which, to be honest, was nowhere near as awesome as the totem pole lurking behind it! It was raining so we didn't stay out for long. 

Monday, 7 February 2011

Being a Broad

I thought I'd take a minute to tell all your foreign ladies out there about Being a Broad.

It's a support and information network for foreign women living in Japan, although Japanese ladies are also welcome to join. Set up in 1997 by the lovely Caroline Pover, Being a Broad holds girly nights out, careers seminars and other meetings in Tokyo every month. However, if you don't live in Tokyo, fear not! There are Being a Broad reps all over Japan, with events happening in various prefectures. Shizuoka prefecture's rep is my friend Ali (check her blog at They publish a magazine every month, which you can get hold of through a rep or view online from the website, and have an online forum where you can ask questions, find out about events or

Getting my Wisdom Teeth Out... in Japan

Major oral surgery... in a foreign country??

The very notion strikes fear into the hearts of many - be they xenophobic, odontophobic* or my parents. (*That's fear of teeth or dental surgery.) But when my teeth started hurting back in December, I decided that I had better get them checked out.. after all, I had already been told a few years ago that my bottom wisdom teeth were growing through impacted. After an X-ray, I was told that I should get ALL FOUR of my wisdom teeth removed.

Should I have them out in Japan? I wondered. Wouldn't it be easier to get them out in the UK? Well, it might have been cheaper, as the UK has the NHS (National Health Service, meaning that most medical care is free), although I don't know if dental surgery is covered for those over 18 or not in full-time education. Still, the thing about the NHS is that you normally have to wait months and months for an appointment - it would have been August or September 2011 by the time I could have had them out, plus I'd have to book a flight home. On the other hand, I had heard that in Japan they didn't like to use general anaesthetic, meaning that I would be awake during the operation. The thought of being conscious and aware while my gums were cut open and my teeth hacked out filled me with dread.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Reverse Culture Shock - Back to the U.K.

I couldn't believe that I was going back to the U.K., even if only for a few days. I had never been away from Britain for more than a week at a time before I came to Japan, but I quite quickly got used to the idea that I wasn't there anymore. I had adapted to thinking of the British isles as being miles away (I visualise the world map a lot, and my relative position on it), nine hours behind us, my old friends and family members reduced to pixels and occasional Skype conversations. The U.K. was no longer my reality... it was a memory which, like childhood, like school and family holidays and old TV programmes, I had lovingly crafted and distorted with my mind. Going back seemed surreal, like going back to school again, back to an old job. I tried to distract myself on the flight, getting myself back into the mood with English films, but as the plane began its descent onto British soil, I could not get my head around it.

The thing is, I might have been in Japan for nine months straight, but every night when I close my eyes, I inevitably dream in British. I am usually always somewhere back home, in Wales, as if my subconscious was never able to evolve past the landscape of my early years.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

An Impromptu Day in Tokyo

Sorry, it's been a while! I arrived back in Japan on the 6th of January, after spending a few days back in the U.K. over Christmas. I was originally meant to fly out there on the 23rd of December. I had booked a hostel for the night, and paid for my shinkansen tickets in advance (as it is cheaper to do so), ready to head up to Tokyo on the evening of the 22nd after work, and to fly out the next morning.

Alas, it was not to be quite so easy. The U.K. had been covered in snow for a few weeks (and by covered, I mean a couple of inches, which to the British is a blizzard of epic proportions, just as a persistent temperature of 25C is considered an "Indian summer") and so a lot of flights were delayed or cancelled. The day before I was due to fly, the flight company emailed me and told me that my flight had been cancelled. Gripped with panic, I set about trying to call both company and travel agency. As it was around 4am in the U.K. at this point, I had little luck. Eventually I decided to spend the rest of my worldly wealth on another flight, if I could find one. I was lucky enough to find a flight with BA for the 24th for a relatively reasonable cost. Warned that this flight could also be cancelled due to the weather, I went ahead and booked it anyway. Shinkansen tickets and hostel reservation still standing, I decided to head up to Tokyo that night anyway, and book a second night at the hostel. Jenny was going to be coming with me anyway, she herself not flying out until the 24th. This left us both with an unforseen day together in Tokyo, to fill in whatever way we saw fit.